At the urging of the Obama Administration, the U.S. Justice Department has opened a review of cases of low-level drug criminals imprisoned for offenses related to crack cocaine. The goal is to undo a disparity that gave much lower sentences for offenses involving powder cocaine – favored by whites – relative to crack cocaine that was more commonly sought by blacks.
According to the New York Times, the disparity in sentencing “flooded the nation’s prison system and disproportionately affected black men.” Congress took action to reduce the sentencing disparity in 2010 and is now considering retroactive changes to the sentencing guidelines. The Justice Department is asking defense attorneys who represented some of the 30,000 prisoners sentenced under the old guidelines to ask for clemency. More than 10,000 prisoners could be affected by the change.